Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016 [Seanad]: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am delighted to speak on the Bill. I am also delighted that consensus was achieved on it in the Seanad, leaving very little work to be done in the Dáil before it can be referred to the President for signature. I commend Senator Mark Daly, Fianna Fáil and members of the deaf community on the work that was put into achieving that consensus. I particularly want to mention Grace Coyle, Senator Mark Daly's parliamentary assistant, for her dedication, perseverance and endless patience in seeing the Bill through to this point. I also commend Deaglán Ó Briain, Jennifer O'Connell and my adviser, Gerry Maguire, for their amazing and professional work on the Bill.

As I mentioned in the Seanad, the Government's approach to amending the Bill is to keep and strengthen the three key features that need to be in legislation. Those are: to ensure the retention of the important recognition by the State of Irish Sign Language and that users have the right to use it; to place a duty on public bodies to provide Irish Sign Language interpretation at no cost to the user when access to statutory entitlements is sought by a person; and to provide a clear statutory right to use Irish Sign Language in court proceedings.

I reiterate for the House that, in response to concerns raised by the deaf community - all of whom present in the Gallery I welcome to the House for this very important debate - the commitments relating to Irish Sign Language in the national disability inclusion strategy I launched last July were strengthened. In addition to providing for the extension of the Irish Sign Language remote interpretation service to evenings and weekends and supporting this legislation to ensure that all public bodies provide Irish Sign Language users with free interpretation when accessing or availing of their statutory services, we will ensure that the Sign Language Interpretation Service, SLIS, will be resourced to increase the number of trained sign language and deaf interpreters. A quality assurance and registration scheme for interpreters, for whom ongoing professional training and development will be provided, will be established. I am delighted to confirm that an allocation of €327,000 in 2018 has been made available to SLIS via the Citizens Information Board for that work.

Much work was put into improving the Bill in the Seanad and, as I said, there are very few amendments for the Dáil to consider. One substantive amendment to the Bill has been proposed following discussions between myself and Senator Mark Daly. In regard to specific detail on the number of hours per annum, the Bill, as published, proposed that users of Irish Sign Language be provided with an annual allocation of interpretation for non-public sector purposes, to include GP visits and social and cultural activities. That level of detail and prescription is not appropriate to primary legislation, which point was accepted by the Senator in negotiations. I again thank him for his co-operation. Although he agreed in the Seanad to the deletion of the provision, which is contained in section 7, that was on the basis that the issue would be further considered in the Dáil. I accept that sign language users suffer extreme social isolation. That argument was put forward by the deaf community and the Senator and I accept it. Provision of support so that sign language users can visit the GP and engage in social, cultural and other activities would be a humane and worthwhile initiative to combat that isolation and improve well-being and mental health. However, that cannot be regulated through detailed prescription of annual numbers of hours in primary legislation as was originally proposed. I am delighted to confirm that I have secured the agreement of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, for the provision, in principle, of funding to Irish Sign Language services in that regard.

The intention for 2018 is to develop guidelines as envisaged in amendment No. 15. SLIS, working with its funder, the Citizens Information Board, will be tasked with scoping out how a model for such a scheme would operate and preparing draft guidelines for consideration and approval by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection. The intention, subject to the progress of that work, is to aim to trial an approach towards the end of 2018. In that context, a sum of up to €50,000 may be made available from within existing resources to meet any pilot project costs incurred towards the end of next year. Following the pilot project, more detailed proposals and revised guidelines will be developed and they will inform future annual funding requirements, subject to the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, in the normal way.

The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel has examined the text of the amendment originally suggested by Senator Mark Daly and advised that it should be recast as per amendment No. 15. The Senator and I engaged in further discussions and it is now an agreed amendment. As agreement has been reached on an approach to funding, which is the remaining outstanding issue, and as it is a very real issue for the deaf community, I am happy to present the amendment by agreement.

The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel has advised that a number of technical amendments should be made to the Bill, as passed by the Seanad. They include: moving a regulation-making power adding new public bodies from definitions in section 2 to a substantive section of the Bill; a technical recasting of the regulations in respect of notice to be given by a user of Irish Sign Language seeking to avail of free interpretation services and ancillary matters in section 5; an internal reorganisation of the review of the Act in section 9; and changing the Title of the Bill to the Irish Sign Language Act 2017, which is crisper and more user-friendly. Those amendments have been discussed and I hope we will be able to agree them on Committee Stage.

It is appropriate to reflect at this time of year on the significant progress that has been made on disability issues over the past 12 months.

The task force on personalised budgets, which I launched in 2016, will report to me shortly on a personalised budgets model, which will give people with disabilities more control in accessing health-funded personal social services, thereby giving them greater independence and choice in accessing services which best meet their individual needs. The task force is an important part of the process of progressing the Government's objective to provide services and supports to people with disabilities that will enable them to have greater independence in accessing the services they choose and improve their ability to tailor the supports required to meet their needs and plan their lives. This is an important issue in the context of choice and equality for all citizens.

In April of this year the Make Work Pay report was launched, and many its 24 recommendations already are being actively advanced by all Departments. In some cases the Government has gone beyond the recommendations of the report in support of people with disabilities. For example, the report identified transport as being critically important for people with disabilities who are considering returning to work. On foot of this recommendation, it was decided that a person in receipt of a long-term disability payment may retain his or her free travel pass for five years.

In budget 2018, I secured an increase in the allocation for disability services to €1.763 billion, which is an increase from the allocation of €1.688 billion in 2017. As a result of my securing additional funding of €92 million for disability services in 2017, this year saw the allocation of an additional €10 million for the provision of services for 1,500 young people leaving school and rehabilitative training this year; the development of alternative respite models with €1 million in targeted funding; the reconfiguration of residential services supported by €20 million in capital funding and to be further supported by the service reform fund; and quality improvements to increase compliance with the national standards for residential services for children and adults with disabilities.

I will share my time with Deputies O'Loughlin and Browne.

Fianna Fáil is delighted to support, and to have initiated, the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016. This is a hugely significant day for the deaf community as this legislation will empower them by placing Irish Sign Language on a statutory footing. It is a massive advance for their civil and human rights. On enactment of the Bill, the State will recognise the right of Irish Sign Language users to use Irish Sign Language as their native language. Designating Irish Sign Language as a native language will empower the deaf community by permitting the language to be used in legal proceedings. It will also require the State to provide interpreting services for students who use Irish Sign Language. Importantly, it will also require public bodies to provide Irish Sign Language users with free interpretation when availing of or seeking access to statutory entitlements and services. This will make it easier for members of the deaf community to communicate with State institutions.

The Bill was originally put together by Senator Mark Daly, working with the Irish Deaf Society, including members of the deaf community, some of whom were from my native county of Cork. The Bill covers a wide range of topics, including recognition of Irish Sign Language and the rights of members of the deaf community. Three times my party colleague, Senator Mark Daly, introduced Irish Sign Language legislation in the Seanad and now, on the third attempt, he has succeeded. I commend his persistence. I also acknowledge the work of Ms Grace Coyle, who works with Senator Daly. She worked very hard on the Bill.

As I said, the Bill was drawn up in collaboration with the Irish Deaf Society, which has campaigned for more than 30 years for recognition of Irish Sign Language as a major aspect of equality for deaf people in Irish society. Irish Sign Language is the primary language of the deaf community in Ireland, and approximately 50,000 people communicate in the language. It is the native language of the deaf community, a visual language with its own unique grammar, and it is a language not only of the hands but also of the face and the body. Until now it has had no official status in Irish legislation, and it has been a crucial objective of the Irish Deaf Society to secure such recognition. This week this goal will be achieved.

I hope this legislation is just the start and not the end of this journey. I particularly hope that official recognition of the language will transform the lives of deaf people, especially deaf children. Before I was elected to this House, I worked as a special needs assistant, so I particularly welcome section 5 of the Bill, which provides for educational supports for deaf children. In this, as in so much else, early intervention is critical. There is no reason deaf children should not have the same educational outcomes as those of the rest of society, yet the proportion of deaf children who progress to higher education, for example, is half the proportion of the wider community. I hope this Bill will be able to address such issues. In the years ahead we must closely monitor and evaluate the progress of young deaf people and be prepared, if necessary, to come back here and improve this legislation. I ask the Minister of State to work on core funding for the Irish Deaf Society, which does Trojan work. I, too, am happy to commend the Bill to the House. I compliment the Minister of State on his work and I reiterate my congratulations to the Irish Deaf Society, many members of which are in the Gallery, and to Senator Mark Daly for making this happen.

I extend a warm welcome to all the members of the Irish Deaf Society who are in the Gallery with their families. It is a very proud and significant day for all of them. I also welcome the fact that we have an interpreter in the press gallery. I was very frustrated one day when I had hoped to hold a meeting with Eddie Redmond of the Irish Deaf Society and the Houses of the Oireachtas Service could not and would not provide an interpreter. I hope that will all change with this Bill. Today is a very significant day after a very long campaign lasting more than 30 years, and I commend again the Irish Deaf Society and Eddie Redmond, Senator Mark Daly and the Minister of State on bringing the Bill to where it is today. It has been the culmination of a very long struggle.

The right to use one's own language is an important human right that each person in the Gallery should have and will have when this Bill is passed. Purely because of a lack of communication over the years, the deaf community has suffered. Deaf people have through the years become one of the most marginalised groups in society, facing barrier after barrier at every stage of their lives, preventing their full participation as equal citizens. When we look back over the research, we see and must acknowledge that deaf people have faced higher unemployment rates, lower educational attainment, poorer health rates, higher risk of mental health issues and significantly decreased economic mobility. Please God, this will end. There will still be barriers and battles, but when the Bill is passed I hope life will be an awful lot easier for all of those in this community.

What will legal status in respect of Irish Sign Language, ISL, achieve? There are a number of reasons it is important for us to accord such status. From what we can see, ISL users will have more legal rights, better access to public services through ISL, which is hugely important, better education for deaf children, better third level education and training for deaf adults and better interpreting quality and monitoring. These are just five reasons the Bill is so incredibly important to all of those in the Gallery and those whom they represent. There is no doubt but that the Bill, when passed, will make a positive and meaningful difference to the quality of life for Irish Sign Language users, both the 5,000 who use it constantly and the other 40,000 who use it as a means of communication.

I commend the Bill to the House and am proud to stand with colleagues in supporting it.

I welcome the members of the deaf community who are in the Visitors Gallery for this historic occasion. This Bill was introduced in the Seanad by my Fianna Fáil colleague, Senator Mark Daly, in 2013. It has been a long road to get to where we are today, but it shows what can be achieved when we work together and persevere on an issue of huge importance to our society. The Bill provides civil rights for the 50,000 members of the deaf community in Ireland and, crucially, places responsibility on the State to deliver those rights.

From my experience as party spokesman on mental health, I welcome these provisions, which include an onus on the State to provide interpreters in all public services, including hospitals, as a means to enable members of the deaf community to gain the help they may need when suffering from poor mental health. The provision to provide funds to support users of Irish Sign Language, ISL, in accessing social and cultural events is likewise particularly welcome. These changes will facilitate ISL users to play a full and unencumbered part in Irish society, which will have a positive impact on their mental health.

These provisions will have huge benefits for members of the deaf community in my own county of Wexford. I give a special mention to Our Lady of Lourdes secondary school in New Ross, which contacted me earlier this year when pupils were doing a project on ways to bring about improvements in areas of social neglect, for which they chose to focus on the provision of services for the deaf and hearing impaired. It is through projects like this and the awareness created by deaf community campaigns that we have got to where we are today. I congratulate the deaf community on their achievement and the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, and his officials on the important part they have played in progressing the legislation. I thank Senator Mark Daly and his assistant, Ms Grace Coyle, on their work in initiating the passage of the Bill through the Houses.

This is an historic day which has been a long time coming for the deaf community in Ireland. Míle comhghairdeas to all of those who campaigned for decades to achieve recognition for Irish Sign Language. A special word of thanks must go to Senator Mark Daly for his great work on this issue. I take the opportunity, too, to commend the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, on his introduction of the Bill in the Dáil for final approval. Maith sibh uilig to everybody who has played a part in getting us here today. Sinn Féin has long supported the campaign by the Irish Deaf Society and other campaigners for official recognition of ISL. The language is of great importance to members of the community in Ireland, their families and friends. This legislation is incredibly important in terms of the rights and entitlements it affords to citizens who are deaf.

Irish Sign Language is a language of the face, hands and body. It has been in existence for hundreds of years and was developed from within the deaf community in Ireland. It is one of our two indigenous languages, with the other, Gaeilge, being our first official language. ISL is unique to Ireland and differs from sign languages in other countries. There are approximately 5,000 deaf people in Ireland who use ISL daily. In addition, approximately 40,000 hearing people use the language regularly or on occasion. The right to use one's language is a human right. Unfortunately, we in Ireland are accustomed to the mistreatment and lamentable decline of Gaeilge. The failure to give official recognition to ISL before now is another example of the disgraceful treatment of our indigenous languages. Irish Sign Language was formally recognised in the North of Ireland in 2004. The Good Friday Agreement requires equal respect in both jurisdictions for all rights bestowed in either jurisdiction. That equality will finally be in place for the Irish deaf community in this State with the passage of this legislation. While we are on the topic of equality and language rights, I take the opportunity to record our support for those campaigning in the North for an Irish language Act, Acht na Gaeilge.

In October last year, in my capacity as Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, I was honoured to launch a report fully endorsing the formal recognition of ISL. During the course of our hearings on this issue, the committee heard of the extent to which the deaf community experiences exclusion and isolation through the lack of sign language provision. One witness described that experience as one of "extreme marginalisation", extending from the personal level right through to interactions with key organs of State such as the education system, Courts Service, health service and the Oireachtas. Those of us blessed with hearing take for granted the most simple of things like listening to music, hearing our telephones ring, watching television, accessing State services and communicating with our health providers. We all recall the infamous Storm Ophelia, which hit our shores some weeks ago. Those of us with the gift of hearing were provided with 24-hour news coverage of the storm's progress. Every effort was made to keep us informed and safe, but the same consideration was not given to those in the deaf community. It was only when contact was made with the national broadcaster to point out that the service did not cater for the needs of deaf people that an interpreter was finally provided. This is just one recent example of how the deaf community is continually let down. The introduction of statutory targets regarding the accessibility of TV programming, as provided for in the Bill, is very welcome.

In my contribution at the launch of the justice committee's report, I made reference to a very sad chapter in the recent story of the deaf community in Ireland and those most seriously impacted among its number. I dedicated the event, which took place in the Leinster House audiovisual room on 13 October 2016, to the memory of brothers Daniel and William McCarthy whose remains were discovered at their Millrose Estate home in Bluebell in west Dublin just weeks before the report's launch. Their tragic passing exemplified the need for a formal recognition of Irish Sign Language. The message from this Chamber today is that Daniel and William are still in our thoughts.

The passing of this Bill will mean that deaf people in Ireland are finally able to access State services in their own language. It will mean every public body having to devise and implement an action plan to promote the use of sign language within the organisation. It will also permit the use of sign language within the courts. In addition, the Bill advocates for the establishment of an Irish Sign Language council, which would regulate sign language interpreters and teachers. All of these provisions will make a huge difference in the lives of many. The legislation represents a massive step forward and I am delighted to have played my part, however small, in its coming into being.

Déanaim comhghairdeas leis an Aire agus le gach a bhí páirteach leis an mBille seo a thabhairt chun cinn. Is Bille tábhachtach é a thabharfaidh aitheantas agus éifeacht don teanga agus a thabharfaidh cúnamh do dhaoine é a úsáid i ngníomhachtaí leis an Stáit.

We discussed the report of the committee 12 months ago. As on the previous occasion, I started my contribution in Irish to illustrate a specific point. Irish is my native language. It is a language of which I am very proud and which I have spoken since I was a child. Despite the complaints I might have regarding the status, promotion and funding of the Irish language, it is officially recognised in the Constitution. I have the right to use my native language in our courts and when engaging with public services. While the manner in which that is done is not perfect and there are many flaws, I am aware that these are privileges that the deaf community in Ireland does not currently enjoy. Users of Irish Sign Language do not enjoy those privileges in respect of what is their native language. This Bill changes that and, as a result, it is welcome.

I commend the Minister of State and Senator Mark Daly on their work in respect of the Bill. I also commend Grace Coyle, the Senator's parliamentary assistant. I worked with Grace in a newsagents many years ago. It is a small world. I also commend Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin who made this Bill a priority at the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, which brought forward the report.

It is extraordinary that the campaign for the recognition of Irish Sign Language has taken so long. It has been 30 years since the matter was first raised in the European Parliament by Eileen Lemass, a former MEP. It is extraordinary that it has taken so long to reach this point. The greatest congratulations of all are owed to those who were involved in campaigning, the many people who are in the Public Gallery tonight, the Irish Deaf Society and, specifically, the Cork Deaf Club, which was very active in canvassing me and all Deputies and Senators in Cork city and county. There are many people in this institution who deserve to be commended on the passing of this vitally important legislation, but the greatest congratulations are due to the aforementioned groups for their perseverance.

The legislation is important in terms of its symbolism and its recognition of the language. It is also important in the context of its practical effect. Deaf people have been marginalised in the areas of employment, education and opportunity. It is essential that the legislation will now give equal opportunities to members of the deaf community in all those areas and that it will give practical effect to the recognition of the language.

I welcome those in the Visitors Gallery. They are more than welcome. I am sure this Bill is very important to them. It is the result of years of campaign work and pressure from the deaf community. They are the people who fight for resources for their community and for the recognition of the language and the culture. The deaf community has experienced many years of discrimination and isolation. The State's education system marginalises their language and this has resulted in social isolation of the community. Members of the deaf community should be very proud of their campaign work and in their achievement of having Irish Sign Language recognised as a language.

Solidarity-People Before Profit will support this Bill, but we also believe that there must be far stronger provision for Irish Sign Language as a full, official language of the State with legal obligations on those outside of the public sector also. The deaf community will have to fight - as do other communities - for the resources to make this recognition a reality. I am particularly happy to contribute to this debate because of Deaf Village Ireland on the Navan Road and the important role it plays in the life of the constituency I represent in Dublin West. Deaf Village Ireland forms the boundary of the constituency and many people who are deaf live in the area and have links with the local community on the Navan Road.

Irish Sign Language is indigenous to Ireland. The language should be valued as part of the deaf community's culture and as Irish culture. Irish Sign Language is used by 5,000 people in the State. The actual figure is thought to be much higher as a result of the fact that family members and work colleagues also use it at some level. Some estimates indicate that 20,000 to 50,000 people us the language. In the 19th century it was the dominant view that sign language should be discouraged because it was believed to be a barrier to integration. This was a mistaken belief. People were forced to fit in to the education system rather than the education system fitting their needs. It was an utterly backward idea.

Knowledge of sign language in general, and of Irish Sign Language, is essential for interaction with wider society. This interaction with education means that members of the deaf community often have lower literacy levels than the rest of society. In that context, 80% of adults in the community have same literacy level as eight or nine year olds. For the rest of society, the figure is 25%. The resources are not available to the community to fund Irish Sign Language education for their families. This means that members of the deaf community can often find it difficult to communicate with their own families and those closest to them. One survey indicates that 71% of deaf people are unemployed. They are fully capable of working productively but cannot hear, or have difficulty hearing, and use a different language. It is also difficult to get interpreters. There are approximately 60 to 70 interpreters in the State. Their number must be greatly increased. In Finland, there are 500 registered interpreters. The deaf community now needs to fight for massive investment to bring about the appointment of teachers and interpreters. Grown adults should not have to rely on family members to interpret for them.

While Solidarity-People Before Profit welcomes the Bill as an achievement for the deaf community, we need to keep active to fight for resources. The State has failed the Irish language and there are no legal obligations on private companies to use Irish, despite it being an official language of the State. The same could happen with Irish Sign Language. The deaf community has won this recognition but it will need to remain vigilant. Solidarity-People Before Profit believes that Irish Sign Language should be more than recognised, it should be an official language of the State. This would place the onus on the State to provide it and ensure that measures are carried through. There should be education for Irish Sign Language in all primary schools, even if it is at a very basic level. If there was a widespread knowledge of their language, it would open up the world of deaf people. There should also be targets for the public service providers - especially those in the areas of health and education and the Garda - to have a certain number of people with the knowledge of Irish Sign Language. A legal obligation should be placed on large private sector companies such as banks, supermarkets and utility companies to have a knowledge of Irish Sign Language among their staff. If courses and training were available I believe this would be taken up enthusiastically by many workers. It would break down many of the barriers faced by people who are deaf.

With this Bill, there are important gains for the deaf community. It comes in the context of many minorities, such as Travellers and the LGBT community, demanding their rights. However, we need to go much further.

The word "equality" has been used a lot in political and public discourse lately. This is a very positive development. Obviously, the marriage equality referendum was an enormous step forward for the LGBTQ community. Equality was the watchword. We need to fight for equality because there has been so much inequality. A host of groups in Irish society have been denied real equality as citizens of the Republic. This has been true for women, for the LGBTQ community and, critically, for people with disabilities. It is a matter of continued frustration for many Deputies that 11 years after agreeing to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Ireland has still not done so. Members of the deaf community have fought for the recognition of sign language and for full equality as citizens for decades.

It is a shame on our society that, to date, we have failed to achieve that genuine equality. It is a particular shame that during the period of austerity that deaf services and advocacy groups were victims of cuts, as were many other services for people with disabilities. The struggle of the deaf community has finally paid off and today we are taking a significant step forward with this Bill. Senator Mark Daly deserves commendation on that, but the greatest credit should go to the sign language and deaf community which has fought so long and hard for this recognition. In a Chamber where we must often be critical and where we are often frustrated, it is good that we can celebrate a positive development and a step in the direction of equality.

The measures in the Bill address critical areas where there has not been equality for the deaf community: recognition of Irish Sign Language as a distinct language and culture, the lack of full and equal access to education, the lack of resources to learn through sign language, lack of access to media communications because there is not enough sign language interpreting in the Irish media, more generally the access to public services, and the need to regulate sign language interpreters and make sure that we have sufficient interpreters in all areas of the public service, politics, media and critically in education. These are all matters addressed in this Bill, and all are needed if we are to move towards equality. These must all be backed up with resources, but having these things enshrined in law places a legal obligation on the Government, politicians and the State to ensure that recognition of equality.

Deputy Coppinger's observation on the private sector is important. This is a first step for the State and for public services to ensure access and equality, but it is something that needs to be extended across society so that the equality exists in all areas of employment and all engagements with employers and private sector actors along with the resources and services.

I commend the sign language and deaf community. Let us now move forward to the full equality that the community deserves.

Before this evening's debate, I went back over information that I had gathered over recent years in relation to the campaign by the deaf community to have Irish Sign Language, ISL, recognised. I found the Irish Deaf Society's list of the ten main reasons that Irish Sign Language must be recognised by the State as a language of this country, which are as follows: there are 5,000 deaf people using ISL daily, and an additional 35,000 hearing people; for regular ISL users, it is an innate and integral part of their personality; ISL is the only natural and fully accessible language for deaf children - it does not hinder any ability to learn how to speak or listen; there is no national register of ISL interpreters and ISL teachers and furthermore there are no accreditation or monitoring systems; ISL has been in use for centuries despite repressive attempts to destroy the language; service providers such as Government bodies are not legally obliged to respect Irish Sign Language - they will translate information into English and Irish but rarely into ISL; the motion calling on the Government to recognise ISL has been passed by more than 40 local authorities; there is no automatic right for deaf people to have an ISL interpreter in the justice system; no deaf child can fully learn ISL, as not all teachers are fluent or even qualified in ISL; and there is no access for deaf people to emergency or helpline services in ISL.

Tonight is a brilliant night for the deaf community to see this situation changed in legislation. I commend Senator Mark Daly on this, but more importantly I ask the Ceann Comhairle to indulge us somewhat this evening. Every now and then we can hear applause from the Gallery and it would be appropriate if we took a moment for the deaf community to applaud themselves because it was its campaigning work over the past 30 years that has brought this about. Well done to all.

We know what this Bill will initiate. It will allow more access to public services and education. The State will be obliged to provide interpreters in schools and in broadcasting and it will allow the deaf community to have interpreters in courts and the health services. This is just a start and I hope that from now on we will have more resources for the deaf community to advance their rights, equality in the public and private sector and its absolute human right to have its own language.

It is nice to finish the year, almost, on a positive note. Like everyone else, I am delighted to see this Bill before the House tonight. There is no doubt that a huge number of people have campaigned on this issue for so long. It was a great shame that it was voted down by the previous Administration. There are over 70 million users of sign language worldwide and after this legislation is passed, Ireland will be among a small group of countries which have given legislative recognition to native sign language. It makes an incredibly nice change for us to be at the forefront of something rather than dragging up the rear as we are so often.

I also very much welcome the Minister of State's announcement about the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I urge that this happen as soon as possible.

There can be no doubt that this is an historic day. I salute the work of Senator Mark Daly and members of the deaf community, although the issue is also bigger than the deaf community. It is not only about the rights of the deaf community to access public services, which of course should be the case, but also the right of the hearing community to be able to interact with our brothers and sisters in the deaf community. From that point of view, while we can bank this legislation here today, I make no apologies for exercising my prerogative as a legislator to put forward amendments to push this forward further. I know it will not be dealt with today and that is absolutely fine, but on behalf of my friends who are deaf and others in the hearing community, the fact that the State is recognising Irish Sign Language today is great. We will bank that and we will build on it because it is only the start of recognition for people from the deaf community.

I have some concerns because Irish Sign Language is a first language and we should be pronouncing that proudly. It is not just a tool to access public services. It is a first language and it is important that more emphasis be placed on that fact. Deafness is not a disability, it is also a culture and ISL is a language and a vital part of that culture. Most, but not all, deaf people use ISL as their first language. That was not always the case as it was repressed in our school system a long time ago, which inflicted a great deal of damage and it was a wrong inflicted on deaf people. The lack of recognition also had a negative effect in ingraining discrimination against deaf people. We should proudly proclaim today that ISL is an indigenous language. It is unique; it is not a second language to its users and it is not imposed on them by outside forces. It was not invented by an authority or a Department or in a school curriculum, rather it was developed in a holistic fashion and it has evolved through use over generations, just like spoken languages.

It has a grammar, syntax, colloquialisms, dialects and, like all language, it is regulated by the unique culture and heritage of the geographic area from where it comes. Sign languages cannot ever have an international set of visible signals that can be read universally.

I was surprised by the title of the Bill, which is the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill, and I am glad the Minister is changing it as it is too narrow. The whole country needs to recognise sign language and everybody, deaf and hearing, should recognise that Irish Sign Language, ISL, is a language. As others have said, 5,000 deaf people in Ireland use it as well as hearing people, with a total of over 40,000 users. We should encourage this and I have tabled amendments, though they have been disallowed, to require all the children in our education system to be exposed to ISL. In this way, we can all communicate with each other as brothers and sisters, hearing and deaf.

I have tabled another amendment which I will deal with later on. I am a bit concerned about a narrow approach to ISL as a tool for social services and I made this point when we discussed the report of the justice committee last year. Section 3(1) refers to the right to use Irish Sign Language as a person's native language and to the corresponding duty on all public bodies to provide ISL. While the bodies have such a duty, the language exists regardless of this duty and we should recognise that, rather than confining the provisions to the question of access to services, though that is critically important. It is necessary to ensure that adequate steps are taken to end the marginalisation experienced by members of the deaf community. We, as hearing people, must step up and recognise that the language belongs to all of us and we should encourage other hearing people to learn and access it. Having reached the historic stage of recognising ISL as a language, we need to build on that and ensure it is incorporated in our education system, our health system and all the services we provide. The report published by the justice committee last year stressed the importance of a system of registration and regulation of ISL interpreters, deaf interpreters and ISL teachers and I am glad to see that this is in the Bill. Hopefully, the Department of Education and Skills will also aim for this because it is key in moving this forward.

I welcome the move and congratulate all those involved in this historic day when, at last, we give recognition to ISL. Hopefully this is just the beginning of a process where the deaf community march forward and its members claim their right to equality as equal citizens of Ireland.

I am delighted chun seas suas agus cúpla focal a rá ar son an Bhille sin. I issue a céad míle fáilte roimh gach éinne sa Gallery and to the interpreters suas anseo in the press gallery. I am delighted to see so many people here. This is a timely piece of legislation and I send my comhghairdeas mór leis an Seanadóir Mark Daly and his assistants and to the Seanad and the justice committee for dealing with it so expeditiously. I thank an tAire Stáit, Deputy Finian McGrath, for coming here and taking part in such a good-spirited debate with the emphasis on granting a right to all people with this disability. I hope it is passed unanimously, though I can see there are some amendments. If it passes tonight it will not be before time. Pádraig Pearse once said that a nation was not a nation without its language and I agree with that. There has been a shameful denial for a long time and it is shameful that we have not recognised ISL or provided the facilities for people who have issues with hearing or cannot hear. I am sure some people in this House, including the Ceann Comhairle, have at times wished they could not hear me but sin scéal eile. It is nearly Christmas and I wish all Members, including the Ceann Comhairle, and all the staff a happy Christmas.

On behalf of the Rural Independent Group, Deputy Michael Collins and I support this Bill. Everybody has spoken highly of the Bill and it is nice to hear unison, at least on one issue. The right to use one's own language is a basic human right. We give lip service to it at times and we are criticised for reports that are published in our national tongue but I make no apology for doing that. I compliment the Irish Deaf Society and its members for lobbying and fighting the good fight to get to this stage. They should not have had to fight for these things but sadly, there is not equality in every area. The deaf community feels a great sense of isolation and neglect. Some of us occasionally get problems with our hearing but we have no idea what it is like to be unable to hear and exchange words. I thank the interpreters who work with the society for their engagement. This is about a right and they have been discriminated against. I hope that once the legislation is passed there will be no further delays or prevarication but that it is expeditiously put through. The resources also have to be put with it so that the necessary supports can be given to the people who need them.

As Deputy Clare Daly said, all children, at least those in national schools, should be encouraged and able to understand ISL. The Irish language was beaten into us in my time at school, meaning we rejected it, but it is important that all children, from naíonraí and play-schools to first, second and third level, should be better able to understand our friends and colleagues, as well as acknowledge their rights. It is also important that all public bodies implement the legislation and assist with ISL. They should have a cohort among their staff who can deal with deaf people efficiently because the latter deserve that. We should not just talk about this and pass the Bill - we must ensure the money is put behind it so that it is embraced by everyone.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill this evening. I commend Senator Mark Daly and his colleagues in the Seanad on bringing this Bill forward. I welcome the Irish Deaf Society, whose members have come in large numbers. It is a great day for them and they deserve this moment.

I am happy to support this Bill, which gives legal recognition for its use in legal proceedings and requires the provision of interpretation into Irish Sign Language by public bodies, as well as providing for related matters. As it stands, Irish Sign Language has no official status in Irish legislation and a vital aim of the Irish Deaf Society is to get recognition and to uphold the status of ISL in Ireland, particularly in education where its acquisition as a first language by deaf children is vital. This Bill aims to grant that official recognition, which will benefit 5,000 deaf people in Ireland who use Irish Sign Language as their first language.

In general, approximately 40,000 people will communicate in ISL with their deaf family members and friends. It is important that our society does its best to integrate all people and communities, be they deaf, blind or other. The Bill is a vital way to do that. It is unfortunate it has taken as long as it has to get to where it is today. I see exactly what pain and suffering these people have experienced, which is very similar to what people who have cataracts suffer. Approximately 8,000 people, most of them elderly, have been left without a simple cataract procedure that can be carried out in this country. As I said on Leaders' Questions the other day, the State would rather see them go blind than resolve this issue. That is why there are buses leaving west Cork on Friday for Belfast to seek a solution. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, myself and our colleagues in the Rural Independent Group have done a great deal of work in that regard.

Irish Sign Language is the indigenous language of the deaf community in Ireland and it is different from the British and American sign languages. Ireland has it own unique language, culture and traditions which are recognised all over the world. As such, I cannot see how we could fail to give our own sign language the same recognition. Public bodies such as the HSE, educational institutions and the State broadcasters have a responsibility to provide for their deaf customers. To date, these customers have felt neglected where services have failed to meet their needs by providing a competent person to communicate through the medium of Irish Sign Language. Irish Sign Language should be taught in national schools to allow those with Down's syndrome, autism and other non-verbal children to communicate and feel accepted in our society as opposed to lost in their own worlds. In the USA, staff of McDonald's have learned sign language so that the deaf community would feel welcome and normal, as they are. How many stroke victims lose the ability to speak? If sign language were more widely taught in the community, locked-in syndrome for the victims of stroke would not be an issue. If sign language were taught, it would help doctors, hospitals and the wider community. If we can teach foreign languages to communicate with those of other nationalities, why can we not teach sign language to help our own? I ask Members to imagine being unable to hear or communicate for a day. It is a lot easier to learn when a child is young and learning feels natural.

Many children are deprived of access to sign language and risk never reaching their full potential. I know of a child in Cork who was discovered, soon after being born, not to have the vital auditory nerves which transmit sound information from the middle ear to the brain. It made him one of a handful of deaf children who cannot benefit from any kind of hearing aid technology. His family was met with a multitude of barriers but his father knew he was a bright boy and that as a family they needed to knock down the barriers to achieving his potential. The family switched their focus squarely to learning Irish Sign Language and their son was sent to a school 80 km away, which distance demonstrates, again, the other barriers that confront deaf people. The family did not give up on their son's right to achieve his potential. I hope the Government is in a position to accept this necessary legislation to progress the integration of the Irish deaf community in our society.

Tá an Comhaontas Glas fíorshásta tacaíocht a thabhairt don Bhille tábhachtach seo. Ar dtús, I acknowledge and welcome the members of the Irish deaf community to the Gallery, including their interpreters and supporters who have campaigned so long for the recognition of Irish Sign Language. I commend Senator Mark Daly, who is with us this evening, on introducing the Bill in the Seanad. He took the initiative, ran with it and secured the support necessary to bring it before the Dáil. This is an important Bill and today is an important day on which we take a crucial step to recognise the basic right to communicate of more than 5,000 members of the Irish deaf community. As a councillor in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown in 2015, I received a letter from a constituent called Wendy Murray who was then the chairperson of the Irish Deaf Society. She asked me to table a motion before the council and I was delighted to do so. It received unanimous support. As has happened here today, each councillor spoke loudly and clearly in turn in support of the motion. It is a privilege to stand in the House and speak to the Bill which seeks to make that recognition a reality.

The Irish Deaf Society has stated that the failure to recognise Irish Sign Language by the State puts the health and well-being of deaf people at risk as they often struggle to avail of vital health and educational services. Many of the private and public services so many of us take for granted are inaccessible to deaf people. It is essential that public bodies be required to provide the necessary interpretive services for deaf people. I cannot even begin to contemplate how frustrating it must be for a person who is deaf to engage with a public body. I refer to simple, daily acts I take for granted like contacting a local authority or departmental office which becomes increasingly frustrating for those who are deaf because there is no one on the other side of the counter who can interpret or communicate with them. Irish Sign Language gives thousands of Irish people the invaluable gift of communication.

The Irish Deaf Society has campaigned for more than 30 years to have Irish Sign Language officially recognised to ensure equality for deaf people. All those people want is to secure the right to full participation as citizens. The availability of services and information, as guaranteed by law, is the only means to ensure that deaf people have the opportunity to access and participate fully in society. I welcome the Bill, which seeks to ensure that members of the deaf community can participate fully as citizens by legally guaranteeing the right to access information in what is their first, and for so many, only language. The Green Party, Comhaontas Glas, is happy to support the Bill.

At the outset, I would like to communicate something in Irish Sign Language; congratulations to the Irish Deaf Society. This is a wonderful day for everyone in the Public Gallery and it has not come a moment too soon. The Irish Deaf Society's members and their families have been campaigning for this day for 30 years. I welcome the fact that we are now at the point of ensuring that ISL finally takes its place as a fully recognised language in Ireland. I commend Senator Mark Daly and the Minister of State for ensuring that we have got to this point. Senator Daly has been working with the deaf community over several years and to finally get to this day is a wonderful achievement. Irish Sign Language is the native language of the Irish deaf community and it is used by the majority of members of that community and their families and friends. Articles 21 and 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities note the importance of recognition and the need for states to facilitate the learning of sign language and the promotion of the linguistic identity of the deaf community. Recognition is an important step towards the realisation by wider society that ISL is not a tool used to overcome a disability but is rather an integral part of the unique linguistic and cultural identity shared by the deaf community.

I am probably the only member of the Oireachtas who holds a diploma for teachers of the deaf. I am fully recognised officially as qualified to teach the deaf but that is not really the case. I qualified many years ago and long before I came into the House, having done the official diploma for teachers of the deaf in UCD. Incredibly, there was no element whatsoever of sign language in the training course.

When I started teaching in the school for the deaf, St. Joseph's in Cabra, corporal punishment had been recently outlawed. Up to then, however, children in such schools were slapped if they were caught signing. During my time at the school, which is not 100 years ago, there were notices all over the school telling the students they would be fined if they were caught signing. That was an incredibly backward attitude to what is a native language for our deaf community. I call it "backward" at this point with the benefit of hindsight. The thinking in those days was very different. There was a sense that if we concentrated on oralism deaf people would learn to speak and communicate orally and that if people started using signs they would never become oral. Of course, that was to misunderstand the situation entirely. The more enlightened thinking that it was about multiple communication arrived more recently, in the 1980s and 1990s.

It also took a long time for people to recognise Irish Sign Language officially, as opposed to Signed English. When progress started to be made in the late 1980s and 1990s on signing and as signing became more accepted in society generally, people tended to speak about Signed English. Of course, that is not what deaf people use. Deaf people use their native language of Irish Sign Language. It is an important distinction.

I am not satisfied that there is sufficient emphasis in this legislation on ensuring that teachers are adequately trained. Currently, there is no existing training course for teachers of the deaf. Most training is done in Manchester and Birmingham. There is no reason we could not have a training course in this country again. There is also no reason for not insisting on upskilling inservice courses in Irish Sign Language for teachers who currently working with the deaf. That is important.

The Bill proposes to establish training opportunities organised by the Department of Education and Skills for parents, people working with deaf people, guardians and siblings. That is most important. The lack of provision of signing is an invisible but significant barrier to accessing basic State services. The national disability inclusion strategy for 2017 to 2021 includes commitments to extend the remote interpretation service and the establishment of quality assurance and registration. However, we must go further than what is provided for in the Bill. Take the example of access to medical care. The stresses of accessing care in a medical situation are significant so it is important that interpreting services are available for that in the same way as they are available for court appearances. We are very under-resourced at present with regard to the provision of signing and ISL interpreters. We must take a significant step forward by significantly increasing those numbers.

In conclusion, I warmly welcome the Bill. It is a testament to the tireless campaigning by the deaf community over many years. It is a positive step forward but it is only the first step. I hope it represents a move towards continued engagement with the deaf community as equal citizens and ongoing development of ISL throughout the community.

Thank you, Deputy, for that valuable insight. Deputy Micheál Martin wishes to make a brief contribution before I call the Minister.

I appreciate the opportunity. I thank the Irish deaf community for its outstanding work and effort in pursuit of this agenda over many years. In particular, I thank Senator Mark Daly, who has been tenacious and meticulous in advancing this legislation. Indeed, last year I met Senator Mark Daly, the representatives of the deaf community and those who were advising on the Bill to try and chart a pathway forward and to make it clear that we resolutely supported this.

The cultural impact of the passing of this legislation on public bodies and institutions will be profound. The important point of this legislation is not just the legal provision but the cultural change it will usher forward. I recall visiting a primary school in Cork, St. Columba's in Douglas, where many children with hearing impairment were educated. They were amalgamated with a mainstream school. It was wonderful that every child in the school had sign language. That is the type of template one should aspire to have. It was done with great ease and dignity. That cultural impact is very important.

The interpretation dimension of the legislation is critical. It highlights the importance of training for those who can become good quality interpreters. That is an essential component of the Bill and I welcome it. I also welcome the review section. When we pass the legislation it is important that we can reflect in a timely manner on how it is being implemented to ensure it is having practical benefits and that it witnesses improvements and advancements in sign language and in terms of training, interpretation and utilisation both in our courts and by public bodies, so it becomes a habitual occurrence and not something that must be continually sought. I introduced the Education Act 1998 and Irish Sign Language is referenced in that Act, so I am conscious of the need for full implementation.

I congratulate everybody involved. I thank the Minister of State for his accommodation and, in particular, Senator Mark Daly, for seeing this through both Houses of the Oireachtas, please God.

I thank the Members for their contributions. I value their suggestions and ideas. I also value the debate about equality and on citizens of the State demanding and getting equality.

Two matters struck me. First, Deputy Clare Daly used the words "bank" and "build". We must bank on this legislation but there is much building to be done in the future as well with regard to putting in place services for the deaf community. I accept that argument. What Deputy Ó Caoláin said was also important. He congratulated and commended, saying "well done" to everybody. Everybody refers to all of my colleagues across the House and the members of the deaf community, who worked together, and particularly Senator Mark Daly. It was difficult. There were difficult negotiations and a couple of rows, but we got over them in the interests of the deaf community. However, to return to the issue at hand, we must bank and build.

Another matter arose during the debate. I am delighted the Government has decided to proceed with the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This Bill is part of that process. We are putting in place legislation. The precise timetable and sequence of events for the ratification will become clearer. We will bring the detailed process back to the Government and the formal process will begin early in the new year. A motion must be passed by the Dáil under Article 29.5.2 of the Constitution, which states, "The State shall not be bound by any international agreement involving a charge upon public funds unless the terms of the agreement shall have been approved by Dáil Éireann". I appreciate the support today and I would also appreciate the support of the House when that motion comes before the Dáil.

I thank Members for their suggestions. This is an important civil rights issue involving the right to have the Irish Sign Language recognised officially. The rights of citizens are very important but there must be services to support those rights. The debate today is part of that process.

The €10 million in extra money allocated in recent days for respite care was another part of the process. We are taking steps in the right direction and, again, I thank all my colleagues for their great support and Senator Mark Daly for his magnificent work on this legislation.

It is a great privilege to be presiding on an historic day like today. In respect of Senator Mark Daly and the inimitable Grace who works with him, the only time I have heard public representatives acknowledged in the way he has been today is when they have passed away; it is very good to see somebody recognised during his own lifetime.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?